There is a backing band of high calibre, and a list of songs, and anyone who wants to can go up and sing along with the band. It’s one of those “live karaokés.” But Ullmann’s has a twist with all the showbusiness trimmings. Ullmann himself dresses up in a costume each time – like Alice Cooper, a werewolf, or some other bizarre thing -, and he sings a few songs, runs around the room, drinks Jack Daniels and just basically goes mad. It is not much different from the hugely successful “Anti-karaoke” in Barcelona at the Apolo Club, in that it has a good feel of debauchery and costumes are encouraged. But unlike traditional karaoké, with a live band both the singer and the spectators are treated to a much more concert-like situation. And it is a great way for budding singers to try their hand and being in the real music situation….
And although Ullmann’s Kararocké does not always take place only at the Bus Palladium, that is a huge advantage. I have written about the Bus before on this blog – several times – and I have played in the restaurant on the first floor several times. But playing in the main concert hall on the ground floor is just something else. It is a huge stage, high above the spectators, with great lighting, a great sound system, and a packed full house of spectators on the floor below. This is really addictive rock star territory here! And all the top bands in France and elsewhere have played in that room on that stage.
Ullmann’s Kararocké also has special guests of high calibre, which is a cool added attraction. Last night it was the French rock star Arthur H (son of that other rock star, Jacques Higelin, and brother to that other pop star, Izia). Another special guest was Michel Gondry, who was a drummer in the band Oui, Oui, and then went on to become a filmmaker, and has directed all sorts of films including music videos for people like Bjork, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Beck and… dammit, wish I could have done my “Mad World,” because he did the Gary Jules “Mad World” video, Donnie Darko version.
There were not many songs on the list that I figured I could do without learning them or rehearsing. But “What’s Up!” of the Four Non-Blondes was on the list, and I do that one a lot these days, even if I do it at a higher pitch than they do. And I usually screw up the timing at one spot. Anyway, out of the hat came my name, up to the stage I ran, didn’t have enough time to think about being nervous – and had drunk more than a half bottle of wine plus two beers, so hey… – and they started playing and I started singing. It was very strange as there were so many things to take in at the same time while also getting into the song entirely. There was the band, the stage, the lights, the crowd, the room, just the fact of suddenly being up there, not to mention what the fuck to do with my hands and body without my guitar! But I knew my salvation could only be to give everything to song and inhabit it and live it and wail through it all my particular frustrations of the moment. Aside from a momentary screw up in the place I usually screw up the rhythm – “Well I try, oh my God do I try!!!” – I got through it and had no crises, and although I did not feel quite as liberated throughout as I do when playing it myself, I got some good responses from people afterwards.
Not only that, but Nicolas decided to give me a gift – and aside from beers and swigs on beer for other performers, I think I was the only one to receive such a gift. It was a triple DVD of a fabulous French music television show from the late 70s, early 80s that I had read about recently in Rock & Folk magazine. It is archival material of live concerts done specifically for the television show, which was presented by Antoine de Caunes. The show was called Chorus, and the DVD has hours and hours worth of concerts by bands like The Jam, The Stranglers, The Clash, The Police, but also James Brown, Pat Benatar, Link Wray…. It is just a magnificent DVD and as I write these words I am already on Disc 3, having listened to discs 1 and 2 today. (Currently watching John Lee Hooker, whom I saw in concert in Ottawa in around 1973, opening for Gentle Giant!!!)
In addition to all of this excitement – on a night where I had decided I would probably just stay at home! – I also met some friends there, and watched them perform. It turned out the Burnin’ Jacks were there, and Syd performed a song and Félix, my guitarist of the same band, played several songs in the second half of the show as lead guitar player. The most touching was when Antoine went up and started playing Teenage Kicks, which I knew he had seen Earle Holmes sing so many times at the closing of his open mic in Paris where the Burnin’ Jacks got their start. (But I was late getting the video going so only have a fragment of Teenage Kicks.)
What a load of fun that all was for nothing but a karaoké! No, an Ullmann Kararocké!!!
PS, I forgot to mention that the evening was also being videoed by a French television channel – one of the big ones – but I’m not sure why….
PPS, It was also the 46th birthday celebration of the Bus Palladium!